Congress proposes legislation requiring firms summarize terms of service in plain language

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,446   +1,026
Staff member
In context: How many ToS agreements, EULAs, and privacy statements do you read? All of them? None? Statistically speaking, it's most likely that you agree to the numerous contracts that you are exposed to online without reading so much as a word of any of them. Although TS readers are more likely to be in the 10th percentile, 91 percent of average consumers don't read online service agreements.

Congress has proposed legislation that would require online companies to post a summary of their terms of service (ToS) agreements on their websites. The bipartisan law is called the "Terms-of-service Labeling, Design, and Readability Act"—the TLDR Act. It's sponsored by Representative Lori Trahan, Senator Bill Cassidy, and Senator Ben Ray Luján.

Trahan says the proposed law will make it easier for consumers to evaluate the terms of legally binding agreements for the websites and services they use. A 2017 survey showed that 91 percent of consumers agree to service contracts without reading them because they are too long and filled with legalese. Indeed, another study from 2008 revealed that it would take an average of 76 workdays to read all of the ToS and other legal documents they agree to when conducting business online.

"Users should not have to comb through pages of legal jargon in a website's terms of services to know how their data will be used," said Senator Cassidy. "Requiring companies to provide an easy-to-understand summary of their terms should be mandatory and is long overdue."

The summary statements will furnish consumers with transparency regarding data collection, including the types of data collected and how it is used or shared. It also provides information on whether users can delete their personal information and how to do that. Another essential detail the summary shall provide is whether the contract requires the user to give up legal rights to their content or legal remedies like arbitration or class action filings.

"Consumers deserve the ability to make informed decisions online for themselves and their families," said Senator Luján. "Rather than inform, too many companies use long and complicated Terms of Service agreements to bury critical details about their data policies and shield themselves from legal liability."

The law will also require the summary statement and ToS to be machine-readable and use markup languages like XML so researchers and other third parties can easily analyze them to provide accountability. The Federal Trade Commission will be the primary enforcement agency. However, states' attorneys general can bring action against companies in US District Court if they find a firm has violated the act within their states.

"Some bad actors have chosen to exploit these agreements to expand their control over users' personal data and shield themselves from liability," said Representative Trahan. "This is a problem that transcends political parties, and it demands solutions like the TLDR Act that do the same by requiring transparency and returning power to consumers."

The lawmakers did not have a timeline for when the bill would be presented to the House and Senate, but as laws go, it could be a while before the TLDR Act could pass.

Permalink to story.

 

brucek

Posts: 1,102   +1,618
Could we please just skip over this step and go straight to abolishing shrink-wrap "agreements" in favor of long-standing uniform commercial code and common law? I don't know why congress and courts have been so OK with companies throwing out the legal frameworks they've spent centuries evolving in favor of an alleged "agreement" that is written entirely by one big company and then delivered take-it-or-leave-it to tens of millions of individual consumers via small transactions making it useless to litigate anything in it anyway.

Save contracts for B2B transactions that involved actual engaged, capable participation from both sides in arriving at custom arrangements they both found mutually suitable.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 8,659   +7,560
Helping more would be for the Congress to re-install the old Consumer Protection Agency and give them some real teeth to resolve matters without having to go through years of legal loops. Starting with those payday lending companies that are nothing more than Loan Sharks would be a great start.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,077   +3,981
I think this would represent an improvement.

On it's face, it would.

On practice however, I am 100% sure that this at one point will be used to have people read the "plain English" version and agree to it when the actual EULA actually says either something completely different or even the opposite.

This things are convoluted for a reason: Law and the justice system overall is intentionally convoluted: it's not designed to actually enact justice, it's goal is to simultaneously delimit guidelines and leave doors open for the extremely well trained and wealthy to test and exploit.

It's why regular people go to jail for even their third minor offense while rich people don't even need to pay taxes, at all: They just have more money than you to pay people who carefully go through some of the most complex pieces of legislation which we've ever created which are tax codes and find a loophole.

Contracts work the same way so an EULA is already designed to be as complicated as possible to entrap the end user, it's literally not possible to reduce it as nobody without a law degree ever truly understands them anyway: its what we functionally do about them now anyway except not we're about to concede *even more* with this "plain English" version as it will inevitable end up with allegations of "What is a reasonable, plain English interpretation from a legal stand point? We think it's reasonable to conceal the truth and have the army of lawyers and endless money to defend this" when it gets tested in courts.
 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 4,304   +2,306
This reminds me of that John Oliver interview with Snowden asking if and how each surveillance program can get our D pics.

A classic.
 

Neatfeatguy

Posts: 786   +1,368
On it's face, it would.

On practice however, I am 100% sure that this at one point will be used to have people read the "plain English" version and agree to it when the actual EULA actually says either something completely different or even the opposite.

I believe that would be called a bait and switch, that's illegal. You can't display terms in plain English and have opposite terms on the ToS.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,242   +7,163
Terms of Service in Plain language:

#1 We run this.
#2 You don't.
#3 If you say anything we don't like, we will delete it.
#4 If you keep saying things we don't like, we will ban you for an arbitrary amount of time (we decide).
#5 If you continue to piss us off, we drop the ban hammer on yoass.
#6 If you complain to the government, we'll point out the 1st Amendment rights of a private company and then laugh in your face as well as Congress.
#7 If anyone tries to compete with us - possibly giving you a choice not to deal with us - we'll buy them out and reinforce rules 1 - 6.
#8 Once we get big enough, we'll control everything and you'll be our slave. If you disobey, we'll "cancel" you.
#9 If we don't get you - we'll get your friends, family and children.
#10 We are your God.